Fall is a prime planting season in Georgia. Cool-season flowering bedding plants and vegetables are planted through February, and October through February is the best time to plant hardy shrubs, ground covers and perennials. How well you prepare the soil before planting has an enormous effect on the health and growth of your plants.
Gardeners often put too little effort into learning about their soil and what is needed for proper bed preparation. Soil is the primary source of water and nutrients for plants and also must provide sufficient oxygen to the root system. A gardener’s job is to make sure, through proper bed preparation, that the soil provides what plants need to be healthy and strong.
There are many kinds of soil in Georgia. Knowing the characteristics of the soil in your garden is necessary for a successful growing season. You can learn about it by talking to other gardeners who are knowledgeable about the soils in your area.
You also can have your soil tested by the University of Georgia Extension. In Cobb County, you can bring your soil samples to the Cooperative Extension office and have it tested by the lab for $9. This is possibly the best $9 you will spend on your entire landscape. The test will provide information on many nutrients, like phosphorus and potassium, as well as providing the pH. Typically, test results are emailed to you within seven to 10 business days, just in time to prepare beds for our prime planting season.
Shrubs, ground covers, vegetables, annuals and perennials should always be planted in well-prepared beds. Trees generally are planted in individual planting holes, and the soil used to fill in around their roots should not be amended. The soil in beds, however, usually is improved in some way when amendments are added. Amendments are materials blended with the soil to enhance the growth of plants being planted in the bed. Here are the basic steps in preparing a bed.
First, do a thorough job of removing unwanted vegetation from the bed. This might mean taking up turf to create a new bed or just cleaning out weeds that have grown in an existing bed. Then, turn over the soil to a depth of at least 8 inches using a shovel, spade or garden fork, and break up the large clods.
Next, spread any desired amendments over the turned soil. You almost always will want to add 2 to 4 inches of organic matter. You can make your own compost, or you can purchase compost from your local nursery. Other suitable choices include peat moss, soil conditioner or finely ground composted pine bark.
Finally, thoroughly blend the amendments into the soil. A garden tiller is great for this step, but it also can be done by hand. Rake the bed smooth and shape the sides, and you’re ready to plant. When you finish, you will see that the bed is several inches higher than it was before preparation. This is desirable, as it will help improve drainage.
Remember, a soil test can help you decide what amendments, nutrients or fertilizers need to be added to your soil.
I won’t deny that this is hard work, but the results will be healthy, vigorous plants, and it will be well worth the effort.
The Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County supports the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service and strives to improve the quality of life in our community by delivering research-based horticultural information, educational programs and projects.
– Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County is a part of the University of Georgia Extension.